A letter from Virginia state Sen. Richard Black praising Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was posted to the Syrian president's Facebook page Sunday. Black (R-Loudoun County) confirmed sending the letter in a phone call with The Post's Laura Vozzella.
"I write to thank the Syrian Arab Army for its heroic rescue of Christians in the Qalamoun Mountain Range," the letter begins. Black praises the Syrian army's efforts against the forces that have been challenging Assad's power for several years, which the letter claims are "dominated by our arch-enemy Al Qaeda." By protecting Christians in the country, Assad has "followed the practice of [his] father by treating with respect all Christians and the small community of Jews in Damascus." Black provided The Post with a copy of the letter he sent.
"If we were to topple President Assad, then Syria would be taken over by al-Qaeda’s allies," Black said. "I don't need to debate anyone over whether he's a great man or not, but to me, the decision is a very clear decision between al-Qaeda and President Assad. Now President Assad and his father before him have maintained peace with Israel for 40 years and they have protected the 15 percent Christian minority in Syria during that time."
"Whatever a person's view is of President Assad, he certainly has never exhibited the savagery of these jihadist groups fighting against him."
The civil war in Syria began in 2011, when protests against the Assad regime escalated into armed conflict. In May of that year, the United States imposed sanctions against the Assad regime; by August, President Obama called for Assad to step down. Earlier this month, Obama and National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with members of the Syrian opposition to offer support.
Over the course of the conflict, more than 100,000 people have been killed, according to the United Nations. (The Britain-based group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights this month announced that it had documented more than 162,000 deaths.) The death toll includes more than 1,400 killed in an August 2013 chemical weapons attack the United States government attributes to the Assad regime.
As Liz Sly reported in March, the Syrian opposition is more fragmented than Black suggests. Al-Qaeda has a presence in the form of Jabhat al-Nusra, but repudiated the group ISIS, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The United States backs the Supreme Military Council, which has itself splintered into two competing groups.
Black is a former Army lawyer who said he developed a personal connection to the Middle East while overseeing military justice in that part of the world while stationed in Germany in the 1980s. As Foreign Policy's David Kenner points out, Black has previously expressed support for the Assad regime in its lengthy civil war. His campaign Web site also contains a statement of opposition to any intervention in Syria.
Chris Lore, legislative assistant to Black, had confirmed sending a letter from Black to Assad in early April, in care of the Syrian ambassador at the country's embassy in Washington, D.C.
Additional reporting contributed by Laura Vozzella.